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LESSON 11: Indian Empire
The Gupta Empire
Contributions to Civilization
By Gupta times, Indian doctors had pioneered the use of herbs and other remedies to treat illness. In India’s free hospitals, these doctors were the first to give injections and vaccinate people against smallpox, 1,000 years before this practice was used in Europe. Surgeons sterilized their cutting tools, set broken bones, and repaired injured ears and noses using plastic surgery techniques.
Many writers collected and recorded fables and folktales in the Sanskrit language. These Indian fables were carried west to Persia, Egypt, and Greece. Many of these tales traveled to Arabia and became part of the Arabian Nights. The greatest Gupta poet and playwright was Kalidasa. His most famous play, Shakuantala, was about a king who marries an orphan. India became the center of learning, and much of its culture spread throughout eastern Asia. The Guptas gave India a long period of peace and prosperity. This is one of the reasons why the Gupta period is often called India’s Golden Age.
Hindus worship many gods. Each god represents a form of the universal soul known as Brahman. In order to be one with the universal soul, followers of Hinduism must purify their souls by performing religious duties and living righteously. Soul purification requires many lifetimes. Each person’s soul experiences rebirths or reincarnations.
In each lifetime, a person can come closer to achieving union with the universal soul by obeying the law of karma. Karma includes all the events of a person’s life that affect his or her fate in the next life. People who live righteously earn good karma and are rewarded by reincarnation into a higher caste or class in their next life. Those who do evil deeds acquire bad karma and are reborn into a lower caste or class, or lower life form.
When an individual’s soul finally achieves oneness with the universal soul, he or she is released from the cycle of rebirth. Hindu teachings are recorded in sacred texts known as the Vedas and Upanishads. These sacred books have stories of heroic tales and moral lessons. Throughout India’s history, these teachings have influenced the way of life of its people.
Muslim Invasion of India
By the 8th century, the Muslims extended their power and spread Islam, their religion, into southern Asia. For more than 1,000 years, Muslim invaders crossed through India’s northwest mountain passes and extended their control as far south as the Deccan plateau. The Muslim conquest of India influenced both India’s political and cultural development. The Turkish Muslim conquest of northern India led to the destruction of many Buddhist and Hindu temples and monasteries.
During these invasions, many Hindus and Buddhists were killed, and cities were looted. Islamic leaders drove the Buddhists from India but not the Hindus. This is why Buddhism started in India but it mainly exists in the rest of Asia. Under Muslim rule, many Indians converted to the Islamic religion.
Hindu and Muslim Differences
New ideas were brought to and from India. Muslim rulers condemned Hinduism as idol worship. They also persecuted Hindus and tried to encourage people to convert to the Islamic faith. However, Hinduism survived as the religion of the majority in India. By the 14th century, the Delhi Sultanate became weak. It was soon divided into smaller independent states, which were ruled by Muslim rulers. In 1398, a Mongol warrior named Tamerlane attacked and destroyed Delhi. He slaughtered thousands of people, both Hindus and Muslims. Mongol invasions and rivalries among its leaders weakened the Delhi Sultan’s empire and led to its decline after 320 years.
The Mughal Empire
Akbar the Great, the grandson of Babur, conquered additional territory in India. The area he conquered stretched from the Himalayas to the Deccan plateau. Although a Muslim, Akbar encouraged religious harmony through tolerance of the many faiths in India, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. He won support through his policy of tolerance. Many converted to Islam, but India maintained its Hindu traditions, and the majority of its people practiced the Hindu religion.
Akbar was as skilled a negotiator as he was a military leader. He was able to make alliances with the many diverse people within his empire. He and his heirs strengthened their empire in many ways. He made codes of law that applied equally to all of his people. He also ended the practice of taxing non-Muslims and appointed many Hindus to high government positions. The Mughals encouraged learning, especially in the arts, architecture and literature.
The Mughal Empire lasted until the mid-1800s. It began to decline when frequent wars, heavy taxes, and tension between Muslims and Hindus increased. As the Mughal Empire weakened, European nations gained control of India.
Review Lesson 11
1. What is the Gupta period in India called? Explain why.
2. What are four contributions to civilization made by the Guptas?
3. How did relations between Hindus and Muslims change over time?
4. What evidence do we have of cultural diffusion in India?
5. List two beliefs of the Hindu religion.